Seven years ago, Mark and Lauren Greutman were in the red by $US1,000 every month.
Then, they started keeping a budget.
“A common misconception about budgeting is that it’s very restrictive and you can never spend money,” says the now debt-free Lauren.
“I don’t like that kind of budgeting,” she adds. “It’s not like we’re telling ourselves ‘no’ all the time.”
Instead, she considers her budget like a backyard fence at home: Her four kids can still run around and have fun, but there’s a perimeter to keep them safe and accounted for.
“It was hard to start in the beginning,” she remembers. “If you don’t know where your money is going, it takes a good three months to get into a groove. Our first three months, we blew it all the time.”
Seven years into regular budgeting for their family of six, Lauren and Mark have it down to a science.
The Greutmans, who live in upstate New York, bring home $US4,900 a month. Mark left his job as an actuary early this year to join Lauren in running their money management website, MarkandLaurenG, full-time. They have a $US925 mortgage, and they save about $US250-$US500 a month.
They have shared the budget they used this November, below:
To set their monthly budget, Mark and Lauren sit down on the last Sunday of every month to create a preliminary budget (and in fact, they broadcast their budgeting discussion).
“If things come up, we can readjust,” Lauren explains. “We’re not sitting and checking things off of our bank statement every day. We do it all ahead of time, and make sure if there are any changes, we update the budget sheet and it updates our bank account balance.”
“We really stretched to send our kids to a private school,” she continues. “We pay $US740 a month for school for two of them in elementary school and one in preschool. We consider it an investment, and it falls under ‘other expenses.'” Since both parents now work at home, though, childcare costs are limited to babysitters for their weekly date night and bible study night.
Other noteworthy expenses include a category that the Greutmans call “miscellaneous,” which allots a certain amount of cash (actual cash, in an envelope) each week. “Right now it’s $US50,” Lauren says. “If Mark wants to grab a cup of coffee, he takes money out of the envelope. Or if a kid gets a last-minute field trip announcement, it’s kind of a mini emergency fund, so when we have an issue come up we don’t have to scramble.”
There’s also about $US500 each month in donations, which is largely the almost 10% of their income that the Greutmans tithe to their church.
“Another budget category, which might sound silly, is parking tickets,” Lauren continues. “We live in a small city and it’s alternate parking, so if we forget to move the car, we’re ticketed at 8 on the dot. We were getting one to two tickets a month, so we budget $US60 a month for parking tickets.” Parking tickets fall under the “transportation” category.
The trickiest category, Lauren says, is grocery spending. She finds that despite her skill with couponing, they’re constantly adjusting their budget for food. “I have some food allergies, so depending on what’s on sale I could spend $US100-$US200 on what I can find that feeds us,” Lauren explains. “I have to eat gluten and dairy-free, and it gets challenging to stay below $US100. It’s always the hardest thing to control.”
“We’re so transparent with our budget because we wish seven years ago that we had someone doing that for us,” Lauren says. “I was crying all the time because we didn’t have money to pay for life. It was such a lonely time. We want to be a voice for couples that don’t know where to turn next.”
Want to share your budget with the Business Insider community? Email lkane[at]businessinsider.com. Anonymous submissions will be considered.